Well, well, well, only the other week I was shouting out the praises of girl Rock duo Larkin Poe on their lockdown series cover of ‘Carry on Wayward Son'. So, what drops through the electronic mail box? It’s only the brand spanking new album, The Absence Of Presence', from Kansas, which will now be available on its revised release date of Friday 17th July!
Still touching on the ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ track, which came out back in 1976, it obviously couldn’t go without mention as it is in the Top 5 Classic Rock songs of all time and went quadruple platinum in USA. From the original line-up, when the band formed in 1974, drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Richard Williams still remain, and they also both now co-produce. Billy Greer on bass/vocals, Ronnie Platt vocal/keys, David Ragsdale violin/guitar, Zak Rizvi guitar and Tom Brislin on keyboards, complete today’s line up.
‘The Absence Of Presence’ marks the band’s sixteenth release over the five decades and the Prog/Art Rock followers are going to be more than satisfied with this nine-song collection. So, lets Prog! Opening up proceedings is the title track, with some gentle piano notes followed by some steady violin strokes to bring the band in at full tilt, and then drop down to a vocal/piano verse. It's not long before the band re-join and the hard-edged guitar licks are firing on all cylinders! This eight-minute dramatic opener is pretty much Kansas through and through with well worked song structures and excellent musicianship.
'Throwing Mountains’ tucks in at number two, with more of a guitar underbelly to the slick vocals of Ronnie Platt, whilst ’Jet Overhead’, which was a recent single release, starts with some subtle piano to heavy laden keyboards, bringing on soaring vocal lines, followed by those mystic keyboard lines traditionally found in Rick Wakeman territory. The shortest track comes in the form of the instrumental, ‘Propulsion 1', clocking in at only 2 minutes 17 seconds. Is that breaking Prog rules? However, on the plus side, it does highlight the excellence of drummer Phil Ehart for his incredibly worked drum patterns.
'Memories Down The Line’ lowers the tempo for a Prog-ballad, carefully crafted, giving way to some intense violin playing and an emotive dual guitar outro from Zak and Richard. 'Circus Of Illusion’ is a more mid-paced rocker bringing the drive from the rhythm section in which bassist Billy Greer excels, as is 'Animal on the Roof’ that follows at a similar pace, providing another example of each band member's musical talent.
The commercial number from the album, and the go for song for mainstream radio, would quite simply be the penultimate track ‘Never'. Opening with subtle piano and violin lines to the vocal rise. Yes, cigarette lighters - sorry I mean mobile phone torches, will be fully switched on for this one. 'The Song the River Sang’ closes out the album, starting in a form of Folky Rock rhythmic charge. One time Yes member Brislin orchestrates and takes lead vocal on this anthemic mash-up. Kansas have certainly seen the years, but at the very same time, have polished up their sound for today, whilst keeping a careful eye on their iconic past. Carry On Wayward Sons.
‘Drinks with Infinity’, due to be released on Friday 31st July, is the latest offering from the Prague based American guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Geoff Tyson.
Geoff is a graduate and former mentee of the master of guitar based instrumental music ….Joe Satriani… which puts Geoff in exalted company, with household names such as Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons; so I was primed for some six string competence before listening to a single note. Geoff started his musical journey at a tender age learning classical piano, so it is no surprise that he covers guitar, bass and keys on this self-produced album. Drums are effortlessly taken care of by the clearly talented local drummer Eduard Štěpánek.
The 10-track album kicks off with up-tempo opener - ‘Six Weeks Of Tina’ – this track immediately displaying a bit of Satriani type virtuosity and displaying some obvious 6-string dexterity. The sound is open and airy and has a hint of very up to date modern music production, no doubt hinting at Geoff’s currency with the modern music scene. The guitars are, untypically intentionally a little raw sounding, which works well here. All in a very catchy and promising start.
Next up is the amusingly titled ‘Shag’, a really nice heavily sequenced track, with a great mix of keys, dance rhythms, and a slightly ‘Bonamassa’ type vibe to the thicker sounding guitars, particularly in the songs end section.
‘Strawberry Napalm’ follows, featuring some stunning guitar work, Geoff displays some very tasteful technique and note choices throughout…. set against another backdrop of very contemporary synth and rhythms.
‘Like Life Is Set In Stone’ would make a great film sound track… there is a lot going on here and some lovely haunting note sequences with some restrained and tasteful lingering guitar melodies and some nice atmospheric touches throughout.
‘Bark’ is a complex and flighty song… with some lovely jarring chords and fluid lead lines interspersed with driving bass and an adventurous, playful arrangement… all very good and instant fun.
The tempo drops for ‘Asabara’, a very nice lingering piece with some lovely layered production; although things picks up again for ‘Monkey Love’, another great display of tasteful guitars and we even get some nice harmony human voices, a lot more going on here the more you listen to this music.
‘Freckle’ has another contemporary sequenced dance vibe going on behind the lead guitar melodies.
As the title suggests, ‘Are You With Me?’ has a question an answer theme, with Geoff employing his guitar skills to enjoy an uplifting conversation with himself.
The album closer ‘Liquid Kitty’ again crosses that contemporary dance club feel with harmonised guitar weaving a slightly exotic melody in and out of the rhythms.
For fans of grown up guitar based instrumental music this album is a must. Geoff has managed to apply his extraordinary guitar playing talent in a tasteful, playful and intelligent way, creating something bang up to date, with great production and complex enough to warrant repeated listening. You may well get pleasantly lost in this work.
This collection of instrumental songs from the super prolific, making everyone else look like complete slackers, Mr. Joe Bonamassa, under yet another musical nom de plume, is described by him as being a tribute to his mentor Danny Gatton. With only the opening track ‘Fun House’ being by that fretboard wizard, it looks more the case of being a tribute to a number of mostly departed sensational guitarists, who are more or less well known among afficionados and guitar nuts, but mostly overlooked by the general public.
On this subject, I often ask colleagues at work whether they’ve heard of Joe B, and it’s about one in twenty, if that, who have. Given his superstar status in the Blues world, yet lack of impact on the popular world of music, it’s no surprise that some of the other guitarists that inspired these numbers have been forgotten. Using his current touring band, it’s clear that this must have been a labour of love as well as lot of fun. It’s an eclectic collection made up of quite obscure cuts from guitar instrumentalists on one hand and a mixture of theme tunes on the other.
What they have in common is that they are all cracking tunes that you would enjoy if played down your local pub; the likelihood of that happening, given the complexity of some of these is, however, fairly remote (although most guitarists would want to have a crack at ‘Ace of Spades’ for fun). The combination of great tunes and the supremely tasteful playing of Bonamassa, not to mention his fabulous band, make this a really enjoyable collection.
Opening track ‘Fun House’ is probably my least favourite on the album; I had the same reaction when I bought a Danny Gatton collection having long read about his guitar mastery; namely disappointment (before I got to the amazing Rockabilly numbers). The combination of Melodic Jazz and Country Rock playing should be a knock out, but while skilful and played (both the original and this cover) with great verve and energy, sounds a bit too lounge band and self-indulgent for my tastes. ‘Move’ by Hank Garland is another jazzy number with super quick Jazz lines played in unison by the guitar and organ; Reese Wynans features heavily and Joe throws out a couple of solos to show off his nifty jazz chops, the first being a Django style, gypsy Jazz nimble fingered effort.
Link Wray’s ‘Ace of Spades’ rocks out as powerfully as you might expect with horns adding to the blockbuster effect. This is the sort of short, sharp number that would sound fab thrown into a live set as an opener. ‘Ha So’ from a guitarist I hadn’t come across, Jimmy Bryant, kicks off with a corny oriental theme before rocking along with a sensational guitar motif and features some insanely good Rockabilly riffs and soloing from the maestro. ‘Hawaiian Eye’ the theme tune from an American TV series that showed in the States between 1959-63 (completely unknown here unless you’re a surf geek) maintains the tempo as guitar and horns pound out the main riff. This is a real blast and if you check out the weedy original theme on YouTube you can see that the band have injected this with nitro to great effect.
‘Bond (Her Majesty’s Secret Service)’ is a song I could listen to on constant repeat; the main Bond theme played on descending power chords is stunning and the superb John Barry melodies are played at full tilt with some fabulous guitar work. The backing vocals are quite exceptional on this, as they are on following number, Tony Joe White’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’, which I’m sure is included as a tribute to James Burton’s stylish playing on the Elvis version. The album closes with two chilled instrumentals, ‘Blue Nocturne’, a King Curtis B-side (to ‘Soul Stew’) from 1967, which is a pretty deep cut and has some lovely soloing from Joe, ending with ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, a hit for Frank Sinatra, written by successful songwriter Ervin Drake, which I’m sure was selected for no other reason than because it’s a lovely tune and the bandleader fancied playing some single note acoustic guitar (before switching into some fat, warm toned electric playing).
Fans of Bonamassa are going to lap this up and, given the overall quality of the songs and the powerful arrangements, it should appeal to pretty much anyone that enjoys melodic music played with passion. Well done also for reviving a dying genre, the guitar instrumental album!
The show must go on, and now in 2020, with Chip Z’Nuff as the only remaining original member of Enuff Z’Nuff, he is single-handedly keeping the boat afloat. Enuff Z’Nuff now feature Chip on bass/vocals, joined by Alex Kane (guitars), Tory Stoffregen (guitars) and Dan Hill (drums). The names don’t stop there though as the extensive guest list is full. The band originally formed back in 1984 in Chicago, Illinois, blended Power Pop with Hard Rock, and have kept to their roots ever since, while adding some elements of Psychedelia on their latest release, ‘Brainwashed Generation’.
‘The Gospel’, a piano/organ piece of 39 seconds by Joel Norman (Isaac & Joel) opens the church doors to the light, Melodic Pop/Rock of ‘Fatal Distraction'. Indeed, the name drops for the second track, come in the form of Steve Ramone (guitar) and Daxx Neilson (drums) from Cheap Trick. 'I Got My Money Where My Mouth Is’ the AOR radio big-hitter on this ten-song collective. Love the multi-layered backing vocals on this - great work Mr. Producer!
‘Help I’m in Hell’ and ‘It's All In Vain’ both fall into that dreamy ELO sound and Psychedelic arena, with guest drummer, the one and only Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater/Winery Dogs), featuring his Ringo Starr replica tama drum kit. ‘Strangers in My Head’ sees the return of original vocalist/guitarist Donnie Vie which comes a close second, just behind the aforementioned ‘I Got My Money Where My Mouth is’ on my AOR listings.
The gears are stepped up swiftly on ‘Drugland Weekend’, with some rocking lead guitar licks from former Kiss man ‘Ace Frehley’, whilst ‘Broken Love’ sees the last of the impressive guest list, which features Brian Ray, a regular in the Paul McCartney Band. This dreamy Rock tune leads us to play out with ‘Go’ and ‘Winding Road’, both in true Enuff Z’Nuff mid-pace Melodic Rock style. Not a bad apple in the bunch, the fanbase will be more than happy, the proof is in the pudding and as Mr. Dio once hailed to Mr. Blackmore - "Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll".
Recipes can seem very simple but it is only when you’ve taken some good ingredients and made a complete dog’s dinner that you realise things aren’t always as simple as they seem, and that without the correct application and skill, disaster results. On the other hand, sometimes a couple of well-matched ingredients can produce what seems like genius, which is what has resulted on this occasion with the well-seasoned vocal talents of musical legend Dion paired with a plethora of your favourite guitarists and some other very special guests. The results are superb and like a classic dish, you’ll be wanting to return to this tasty fare again and again.
Personally, I love to see musical collaborations; those encore guest spots when “wow, is that so and so…” comes out to rock out with your favourite band. It’s generally good fun, however, on recordings, collaborations can sometimes be a little disappointing. You can find yourself asking yourself why they bothered. Happily, that is not remotely the case here. There are probably two reasons for that: firstly, these are all great songs that would sound good recorded with a bunch of anonymous session players – Dion has written this collection over a period of 3-4 years (with long time co-writer Mike Aquilina) and they reflect writing skills honed over six decades (in one case revisiting the title number for non-released 1965 album ‘Kickin’ Child’) - and secondly, rather than being the dreamchild of a business exec’ looking to cash in, the collaborations began in an organic, non-planned manner, with happy results.
One of Dion’s neighbours in Florida is none other than a certain Mr. Joe Bonamassa, with whom the singer had previously worked, on the title track to JB’s ‘Redemption’ album. After Dion played a demo to him of what would become the album’s opening track, ‘Blues Comin’ On’, the guitarist wanted to play on the recording, which set the ball rolling and he was soon followed by other friends joining the party. It goes without saying that Bonamassa’s slide guitar playing on this number totally sizzles and lays the icing on top of a cooking track that rattles along nicely.
There aren’t many musicians that Bob Dylan would bother to write sleeve notes for (they go back a long way, starting from when Dion was signed to Columbia in the early sixties) and as he notes “Dion knows how to sing and he knows just the right way to craft these songs”. It’s surely a mark of the respect for the singer that all of the collaborative performances on this collection are excellent and really add to the listening enjoyment.
I’m not going to list the merits of each song, trust me they are all really good, but some of my personal highlights are: ‘Uptown Number 7’ is an ear worm of a jaunty rocker that features sensationally hot guitar playing from Rockabilly wizard Brian Setzer; ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ is a beautiful ballad that could have come from the 50’s but is completely contemporary with the blissful complimentary guitar work of Jeff Beck (with a sublime solo that is a masterclass in itself); ‘Bam Bang Boom’ is as good as anything by any current bunch of Blues Rockers and Billy Gibbons stirs the pot nicely on this.
Sonny Landreth is the slide remedy to take ‘I Got the Cure’ to another level. Samantha Fish plays some very tasty straight Blues licks throughout ‘What If I Told You’, which is another excellent track that, like many others on the album, is, I’m sure, going to end up in the live sets of pro and amateur performers alike. Alongside the guitarists there are contributions from other notables such as Van Morrison and Paul Simon; the album ends with the powerful ‘Hymn to Her’ featuring Patti Scialfa and husband, Bruce Springsteen.
If this was on vinyl, the record would have been worn down already with some irritating crackles no doubt appearing throughout, given its heavy rotation. Producer Wayne Hood has, as well as playing pretty much all the backing, done a great job to produce what is easily going to be one of the Blues albums of the year; definitely the best Blues album by a legendary performer. The good news is that Dion is still bursting with creative energy and a follow up album with the same format could be in the offing.
The defiantly titled ‘Ain’t Done Yet’ is remarkably Savoy Brown’s 41stalbum (quite a few of which seem to be available on Amazon if you don’t mind some inflated prices) and going by the energetic sounds on their latest disc they’ll be aiming for a bullseye total before it’s time for their leader to pack his plectrums away. The leader is of course original member and guiding light Kim Simmonds, whose guitar playing is on top form throughout and shows all the moves you might expect from someone who was around at the start of the British Blues explosion in the mid-sixties.
Unlike, another musician from the same era, the great Peter Green, whose recent death cast a definite shadow over this reviewer, who, apart from his magisterial guitar playing and world class song writing skills, had an authentic singing voice that resonated with depth and feeling, Kim Simmonds sort of busks his way through the numbers as far as the vocals go. You can’t be the master of all trades I suppose and he more than makes up for it with some tasty guitar playing that fans of Blues guitar will lap up. The album doesn’t try to break any new musical territory, as you might expect, but bristles nicely with the guitarist layering multiple tracks to present a rich sounding set of songs.
Recorded in New Jersey, the album is dedicated to studio owner and engineer Ben Elliott, who sadly passed away after working on the album. The stand out track for me is the closing slow and expressive instrumental ‘Crying Guitar’, which does what it says on the tin, featuring some lovely lyrical note selection using a warm fat tone that I associate with a Les Paul; some really nice controlled and clean bending on this. I’d take an entire album of this quality any day of the week.
This is in contrast to opening number ‘All Gone Wrong’ driven along by the steady beat of Garnet Grimm (yes, really) on drums and some rolling rhythm guitar as a backdrop to some strong soloing and fills up at the top end of the neck, played on a Flying V apparently. ‘River on the Rise’, a mainly acoustic number, features some nice slide playing that aimed to sound like George Harrison, and sort of gets halfway there. Nice though! ‘Borrowed Time’, a number about a mature person looking back on his life and feeling that the end is not that far away (don’t know where the inspiration for that came from…), has a suitably moody guitar accompaniment provided by the studio’s “Multivox FullRotor” effect unit (similar to the sound created by playing a guitar through a Leslie keyboard amplifier).
The title track ‘Ain’t Done Yet’ rattles along at a fair old clip and will no doubt involve the audience joining in on the chorus when this eventually gets to be heard live. ‘Feel Like A Gypsy’ is one of the better tracks on the collection, taking a break from the boogie and featuring a really nice picked rhythm guitar part and some fat toned Santana style soloing. Long standing Savoy Brown fans will no doubt fall in love with this pretty strong set of songs, while Blues fans in general will enjoy the classic guitar chops of the still vibrant front man. We are all on borrowed time but let’s hope that the loan period is extended for the veteran guitar player.